When the news broke last week that Facebook had acquired mobile instant messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion, the first question on everyone’s lips (well, second maybe, after “$19 billion!?) was just what exactly Facebook planned to do with the thing. $19 billion is a lot of money for just about anything – surely Zuckerberg had something up his sleeve for the app?
Well it looks like he’s showing hand sooner than expected. News broke today that WhatsApp could become a voice communication platform before the end of this summer. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum said that the app’s 330 million daily users will be able to talk to one another – he just didn’t explain how.
One thing is for certain though, and that is that Google is equal parts furious and worried. Almost immediately after the news of WhatsApp’s purchase broke, so too did a story about how Google offered to buy the service. Not only that, but they offered even more than Facebook did, all whilst not showing a particularly keen interest in the app itself. Koum and his co-founder Brian Acton stated that it was Facebook’s keen interest in being involved with developing and progressing the app which sealed the deal for them.
News of this expansion in to voice chat is surely exactly what Google feared – the company who seemingly wanted WhatsApp for no reason other than to stop Facebook from having it. Perhaps petty on the surface, but a fairly sound business plan in essence. With the news that WhatsApp will be offering voice chat, Google Hangouts is clearly at stake.
The app, which comes pre-loaded on almost every Android handset, allows users to communicate via both instant message and video chat. It doesn’t take a board of Silicon Valley tech billionaire geniuses to work out just why WhatsApp’s latest announcement spells bad news for Google Hangouts and, by extension, Google.
In the mean time, iOS and Android users can keep chatting away via WhatsApp’s popular text-based service until the big voice chat update rolls around at the end of Q2 of this year, whilst Koum promises that ‘some Blackberry and Windows phones’ will be updated soon after.